The Berlin-Based Brand Making Politically Powerful Clothes

Inspired by an era when people passionately fought for a better future, OIL's latest collection presents the best of the '70s — taking their cues from Joan Didion and Angela Davis.

It’s not often you describe a fashion designer as righteous. Berlin-based designer, Olive Brown, and her brand, OIL, however, are just that. Since OIL’s launch in 2016, Brown has committed herself to making environmentally and ethically conscious fashion. Her clothes are produced locally, using sustainable energy sources in order to generate as little waste as possible. Living up to its fluid, amorphous name, OIL’s aesthetic, in recent seasons, has evolved to match the spirit of Brown’s mission. Arising from the shadows of Berlin’s nightlife, OIL started out as an effort to create the club looks Brown felt her and her friends were missing. Her initial embrace of the techno aesthetic quickly evolved into its rejection — spend long enough in Berlin, and light, colourful clothing begins to feel far more subversive than black and mesh ensembles.

Brown’s latest collection is “inspired by an earlier era when people felt passionately about fighting for a brighter future”. After acquiring a fascination with Joan Didion’s seminal essay anthology, The White Album, Brown swapped Ben Klock for Funkadelic and monochrome for rainbow. For this collection, Brown presents the best of the ’70s through her fearless use of print and a bold colour palette consisting of brick red, muddy brown and mustard. Retro floral jumpsuits, blue satin trousers, tangerine plaid and tie-dyed yellow button-ups abound in her striking homage to a bygone era. For Brown, however, these are quite literally statement pieces: she believes that all the elements in her designs — the fabric, pattern, material and silhouette — have a political significance. Furthermore, this collection harnesses the power of cultural signifiers, forcing one to consider the historical context that bred these aesthetics in the first place.

Her nostalgia for the ’70s isn’t for shag carpets and handlebar moustaches; rather it’s for an era of fervent political protest embodied by the likes of the Black Panthers, Angela Davis, and the impassioned supporters of the Sexual Revolution. The social progress made back then with regard to race, gender and class was the product of intense and emphatic resistance to the growing New Right. Through her expressive, ’70s-hued clothing, Brown emphasises how similar our political landscape is today — and provides us with a wardrobe designed to inspire our very own resistance.

The trouser suit, the ultimate “empowerment” garment, is a key motif within Brown’s collection. While her unisex business suits with dramatic shoulders allude to the increase of women in the workplace, her worker suits evoke feelings of solidarity. Despite her clothes’ overtly retro roots, Brown’s talent lies in keeping her garments current — although we’ve come to associate all that is contemporary, youthful and cool in fashion with streetwear, OIL proposes an alternative, one which proves that more distinguished designs and elegant silhouettes can possess a vibrant attitude all of their own.

“My greatest fear is that the world view of our generation will be that we didn’t do anything, that we were too involved with ourselves and social media to make a change,” says Brown. The designer believes wholeheartedly in the possibility of transformation from the bottom up, particularly in the fashion industry. As someone who has only worn secondhand clothing since the age of 14, Brown is passionate about raising awareness for more meaningful consumption. “You have power in where you spend your dollar,” the designer insists. Choosing to support brands that are more environmentally and politically aware, rather than high-street, fast fashion empires — who frequently practice questionable environmental and labour policies — can fuel change. “Companies and corporations try to appease their customers. If you stop buying something, they’re forced to alter their ways,” clarifies Brown. Needless to say, Brown is both inspired and inspiring, and OIL provides us with a number of bright and spirited options to wear to the next march on Washington.  “You have a voice,” Brown exclaims. “Use it!”

Take a look at the look book below:

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